McLEAN, Virginia — The sales clerks behind the jewelry counter at the Neiman Marcus here didn't watch Callista Gingrich's Friday speech at CPAC — but they could guess exactly what outfit she'd picked for the occasion.
"Was she wearing a red St. John's?" asked one eye-rolling employee, prompting a nearby co-worker to snicker and nod in agreement.
They weren't far off — as shown in the photo above — and there's a reason they're so familiar with the would-be First Lady's fashion sense. Newt and Callista, it turns out, are on a first-name basis with many of the sales clerks and shop girls at the high-end luxury department store at Tysons Corner Galleria, a large mall here in the couple's hometown in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.
A First Lady's wardrobe has been part of the story of a White House since well before the high-style days of Jackie Kennedy. Michelle Obama, once known for her accessible, off-the-rack garments, is now the object of frantic competition from cutting-edge designers. Callista Gingrich's affinity for Neiman Marcus may not sit will with her husband's populist jabs at Mitt Romney's fortune, but it offers a glimpse at the Gingriches' own taste, looking backward toward an era of conservative style and conspicuous wealth.
BuzzFeed spoke to five different employees at the store last weekend, all of whom said the Gingriches are regulars--describing the couple as friendly, specific in their tastes, and decidedly un-shy about writing big checks to fund Callista's expensive shopping habits.
"Yes, they're clients here," said one employee manning a desk on the upper-level of the store, where the racks are filled with high-end women's apparel lines like St. John's, Donna Karan, and Escada. "They used to come in here all the time but I haven't seen them since the campaign."
Like many of their wealthiest clients, the employee said, Callista typically uses a "personal shopper" to sort through the racks for her, find her the right sizes, and bring items to the dressing room for her to try on.
Newt regularly accompanies her on these shopping expeditions, according to another employee, but he doesn't seem especially interested in the clothes. Instead, he brings "the latest novel he's reading" to keep him occupied.
"It's so funny because Newt will come in here, and no matter where he is, he could be in the middle of an aisle, he's got a book up in front of his face," the employee said.
Another sales clerk, who called Newt "a nice guy," said the couple is typical of the store's upscale clientele. New York may be "the shopping capital of the world," she said, but "we get the real money in here."
Several Neiman Marcus employees said Callista has a special penchant for St. John's, a high-end women's retailer that specializes in gold-buttoned blazers and knitwear for the country-club set. A quick perusal of the St. John's section in Neiman Marcus showed Callista's tastes have remained expensive since her $500,000 credit line at Tiffany's five years ago. An average blazer at the store costs upwards of $1,100, and a grey cardigan with a knit floral pattern was priced at $1,295.
But while the Gingriches have spent big bucks at the store over the years, many of the employees take issue with Callista's sense of style.
"They're so nice and personable when they come in, but she comes across really stiff" in public, said one employee, who considers Newt a personal friend. The employee sighed that 46-year-old Callista's uptight pearls-and-blazers look makes her look much older than she is.
"Somebody just needs to shake her up, put a comb through that hair, and take a cloth to her face" to remove her makeup, he said.
Still, for all his complaints, he said he hoped Gingrich wins the presidency: "Then I'd have access to the White House," he said.
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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